Opening one repair shop can be intimidating. Going from one location to two is even bigger. In some ways, growing the number of locations is kind of like being a parent – you don’t know what to expect.
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So says Jeff Matt, owner of Victory Auto Service and Glass, a NAPA AutoCare Center with six locations around Minnesota and Florida. The company, in business for 14 years, has its roots in Fridley, Minn., and this year opened its sixth location, a new spot in Florida.
“It’s been really keeping your eyes and ears open, looking for opportunities and creating your own luck, they just kind of presented themselves,” Matt says.
That right place, right time fortune has paid off for Matt, who started his shop in a rented facility. As he built his business, he realized owning the building was important to his business plan. He looked to move locations, but when a large client encouraged him to stay put, the timing to add a location presented itself.
“It ended up working. Then when we looked at a third location, the goal was to close the location that we were renting.,” Matt explains. “It was strategic that way. When we went form two to three or four, it was opportunities. I was able to get that (fourth location) really at a good value and it was in a city that I had been thinking about. … That opportunity just kind of presented itself. From location four and five came kind of by a connection. It was an opportunity I couldn’t have created on my own.”
Matt found the sixth location in Florida on Craigslist. Thinking ahead in terms of succession and vacation homes, he thought it was a great opportunity that fit in well with his plans. With some work, he will be able to keep his stress level low in regards to remotely managing the location.
“You just have to have employees that you can count on,” he notes. “We acquired a manager that has a lot of experience that will do that. It’s about keeping a close eye on it and trusting your instincts.”
To help keep everything in line, Matt and his staff conduct regular audits of the shops. Utilizing QuickBooks and benchmarking software learned from its Business Networking International (BNI) group, the staff is able to implement industry financial best practices among other measurable marks.
“We have an open book policy and monthly discuss with managers the business and financial aspect of each location, including industry benchmarking of primary business success indicators and the business as a whole. We invite managers to help us audit our locations, giving them hands on experience in the running of a business,” Matt notes.
“We monitor things like our Google+ account and make sure our managers are monitoring our online reputation,” he adds. “Not only do they watch, but they can direct a unsatisfied customers and take that next step to fix the problem.”
Moving Within the Business
Matt is able to keep all of his locations moving on the same line through tried and true methods. First, he reports they have implemented easy-to-read inspections that clearly show in red, yellow and green a vehicle’s condition.
“We have a thorough employee manual as well as a standard operating procedures manual that clearly spells out company expectations. We also have detailed employee job descriptions that we use to hold each position in our company accountable,” he reports.
Like many shops, they cover the cost of ASE tests, and provide training throughout the year. They also follow a growing trend in offering training in leadership and business courses, helping the employees develop their public speaking, networking and business skills.
When it comes to on-the-job training, Matt explains that they follow it up by utilizing phone call recording software. For example, one item they focus on is making sure employees comply with the policy of not giving out prices over the phone. Keeping tabs on items like this helps not only the bottom line, but training and best practices.
“That has been really an eye opener, because we spend a lot of time talking with the employees and going over procedures and having them sign off on acknowledgement forms and figuring out (standard operating procedures),” Matt says. “But it really doesn’t matter what your staff tells you that they know and practice. What really matters is what they know and how they interact with customers.”
Matt adds that the management takes the data and matches it with repair order audits they regularly complete. The company started this procedure this year as a new way to boost its training efforts. During the day, backup employees fill in for others so they can work with management staff to listen to phone calls and look for areas of improvement.
“It lets peers help each other,” he states. “We built a portable counter and do actual role playing. You can’t do enough training with your employees; it’s just become a huge, important thing.”
It’s so important, in fact, that Matt plans to grow the program, possibly doubling it and including additional topics.
Unique Services for Employees and Customers
Matt and company also take advantage of training opportunities to turn the table on their customers. Simple how-to videos on Victory’s YouTube channel show customers basic concepts like how to check oil and wiper fluid levels, change their wiper blades, etc.
“The thought was too many people would be embarrassed to ask how to do this,” he says. “We’ve gotten a lot of feedback from men.”
They also bring customers into their locations with introduction videos for each shop. Each individual shop’s landing page within Victory’s website has a video from the shop manager. It shows the customer what he or she would see if they were standing at the front door, including the waiting area and amenities.
Matt also actively gives back to the community through its work with Free to Be, Inc., which helps local residents by providing single parent families and individuals with vehicles and/or repairs. From 2006-2013, Victory Auto donated approximately $600,000 in in-kind contributions. Free to Be has donated more than 850 vehicles and repaired more than 3,500, with the majority of those repairs having been done at one of our locations.
Beyond helping others, Victory also helps its own employees. Matt reports that employees who perform with excellence are rewarded in a variety of ways, such as being selected as our employee of the month (which comes with social media recognition and a half day off paid), monetary bonuses, and incentives or tickets to local sporting events.
Matt says the recognition and contests between shops help keep spirits up, and keeps the management in tune with the employees. It all helps build the groundwork to move the company to the next level the next time Matt and company are in the right place at the right time.